Urinetown Recoups Investment, But Is Future as Grim as the Show's Namesake?

News   Urinetown Recoups Investment, But Is Future as Grim as the Show's Namesake?
 
The Tony Award-winning musical comedy, Urinetown, got good news and bad news the week of Oct. 27: The show recouped its investment and was told it would have to leave the Henry Miller Theatre in February 2004.
The original cast of Urinetown celebrates their opening night  at The Henry Miller Theatre
The original cast of Urinetown celebrates their opening night at The Henry Miller Theatre Photo by Aubrey Reuben

A spokesman confirmed the $3.7 million recoupment and said the producers of the show were exploring options for the show's future in New York. It is thought by some, however, the show may not live beyond its Feb. 15 eviction date.

There were reports that an Off-Broadway move or a transfer to another Broadway house would be explored, but economics or lack of an available house may prohibit those options.

Although the show is a financial hit, the producers were told Oct. 27 they will have to leave the historic Henry Miller's Theatre Feb. 15, 2004, because of plans to build a new 57-story skyscraper on the site. The producers always knew they were on borrowed time: Developer Douglas Durst told them from the start of occupancy that the wrecking ball would swing sooner rather than later on that block.

The skyscraper will be erected on the Avenue of the Americas between 42nd and 43rd Streets. That area includes Henry Miller's Theatre, located at 124 West 43rd Street. The Miller facade, which is landmarked by the city, will remain, and developer Durst, of The Durst Organization, will build a new 950-seat Broadway theatre within his new complex, the Times reported.

The Henry Miller (the apostrophe and "s" were dropped when Urinetown came in) is said to be simply the hull of the grand little 1918 playhouse named for the British actor-manager. The wrecked, bleak interior fits perfectly into the conceptual post-apocalyptic world of Urinetown (and the seedy world of Cabaret, the 1998 tenant). The Durst Organization, according to the New York Times, will open the new building in 2008.

The surprise Broadway title began life at the 1999 New York International Fringe Festival. It played a late spring/early summer Off-Broadway commercial run in 2001 and jumped to Broadway, opening Sept. 20, 2001, after previews from Aug. 27. The opening was to be Sept. 13, 2001, but the Sept. 11 terrorists attacks on New York City prompted a delay.

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Though the show's time may be up in New York, a national tour is playing to good reviews around the country. For information, visit www.urinetown.com. The show is expected to have a rich life in regional and college theatres, too.

For the run of Urinetown at Henry Miller's old haunt, new seats, box office and air conditioning equipment were fitted into the building. Critics and fans embraced the show as the funniest thing this side of The Producers.

The show is produced by The Araca Group and Dodger Theatricals, in association with TheaterDreams Inc., and Lauren Mitchell.

Despite the off-putting title, which conjures a foul world where water consumption is controlled by a corporation that forces its citizens to "pay to pee," the musical comedy got enthusiastic reviews, and audiences howled at the sly references to past musicals in the songs and in choreographer John Carrafa's comic musical staging. The musical conjures the tone and physical qualities of such legendary shows as Guys and Dolls, The Threepenny Opera, Sweeney Todd, West Side Story and the great satiric musicals of the Gershwins (Strike Up the Band, Of Thee I Sing). Brecht is brought to mind with the company's direct-address to the audience and the darkly comic conclusion that thwarts the expectations of the audience.

The original Broadway company included John Cullum as Caldwell B. Cladwell, Hunter Foster as Bobby Strong, Spencer Kayden as Little Sally, Jeff McCarthy as Officer Lockstock, Nancy Opel as Penelope Pennywise and Jennifer Laura Thompson as Hope Cladwell. The production also featured David Beach, Jennifer Cody, Rachel Coloff, Rick Crom, John Deyle, Victor W. Hawks, Erin Hill, Ken Jennings, Megan Lawrence, Daniel Marcus, Peter Reardon, Don Richard, Lawrence Street and Kay Walbye.

Charles Shaughnessy is the current Cladwell, with Carolee Carmello as Miss Pennywise, Luther Creek as Bobby Strong, Spencer Kayden as Little Sally, Jeff McCarthy as Officer Lockstock and Amy Spanger as Hope Cladwell, with David Beach, Rachel Coloff, Rick Crom, John Deyle, Victor W. Hawks, Ken Jennings, Stacie Morgain Lewis, Daniel Marcus, James Moye, Don Richard, Kristie Dale Sanders, Lawrence E. Street, Kay Walbye, Amanda Watkins and Kirsten Wyatt.

Designers are Scott Pask (scenic), Jonathan Bixby and Gregory Gale (costumes), Brian MacDevitt (lighting), Jeff Curtis (sound). Musical direction is by Edward Strauss. Orchestrations are by Bruce Coughlin. A cast album is on the RCA Victor label.

Henry Miller's Theatre opened in 1918 and was the home for Thornton Wilder's Pulitzer Prize-winning Our Town, T.S. Eliot's The Cocktail Party, Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution and The Andersonville Trial with George C. Scott. In the 1960s, the theatre began showing adult films, and housed a number of nightclubs, including Xenon. The theatre returned to legit use as the original home of the Roundabout Theatre Company's Tony Award-winning revival of Cabaret.

Urinetown won three 2002 Tony Awards, including Best Director of a Musical (John Rando), Best Book of a Musical (Greg Kotis) and Best Original Score (Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis). Tickets are available by calling Telecharge at (212) 239-6200.

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